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Crisis group home work

2012

Hi,

 I work in a crisis group home for 0 to 12 year old children who have been taken from their homes for whatever reason. My co-workers and I don't necessarily know the reason why children get placed into our care. All we know is that these children have been taken from their home and placed in our care because their home prior to removal has been dysfunctional.
 
These children are brought into our care by case workers or police. Because my co-workers and I don't know what led up to them being brought into our care, it is sometimes difficult to respond to them. Right now we have two siblings in our care. Girl is five and brother is two. Lately, they have have been displaying a lot of anger. They say things like "I hate this place", "I want to go home" and "I am the boss of myself". When talking to the brother sometimes about his behavior, the sister will yell "leave him alone". They both will yell, scream, throw toys and break down and cry. When that happens, I tell the sibling group that they are in the group home (I don't use the word group home with them but say "this home" to them) because your parents are getting better and sent you here to stay safe. The sister then responds "but my house is safe". I am asking for suggestions on how I can better respond to their anger and what I can do to make the group home feel like a safe place for them?
 
Thanks.

Hank Bestman
...

First of all, so many issues concerning young children in care are represented in this post,  a word of appreciation to Hank for bringing it up.
 
Perhaps the first thing to do is to empathize with what it means to young children to be removed from their homes. They don't understand why - certainly a two-year-old doesn't and a five-year-old might construct her own explanations. Whatever, the youngsters are frightened and uncertain. Who are these new 'caregivers' and will they be kind and caring ?  Why doesn't the setting have the familiar furnishings and rituals that are so important to very young children ?
 
A child and youth worker in the crisis group home as well might be advised to remember that old adage, "no matter how bad the family may seem to be, children will cleave to that family with great loyalty".  One must be careful never to demean the family to the youngster (not that this has necessarily happened).
 
I don't think it helps the child and youth workers not to have more knowledge of the reasons any particular child or sibling group has been placed.  They should definitely know the presenting circumstances and about the family.  Perhaps the workers in the setting could get together and advocate for that.
 
So let's look at the children's behavior, not hard to understand under the circumstances.  The older girl is protective of her younger brother.  Both of them are beacons of security to each other.  Being able to be protective makes her feel stronger in the new situation. Being protected of course helps the younger children. When she says "I hate this place",  some brief  comment such as "that's understandable, it's new, you're away from your family, you don't know us well", etc (NOT all at once) - just to show a bit of empathy.
 
Ask her to tell you a bit more - just to see what she says and how she's interpreting her experience.  If there's something she says that you can actually do something about - let her know - and then do it.
 
"I want to go home" - but of course.  Again, some empathy that it's hard to be away from home,  might be helpful.
 
When she says, "I'm the boss of myself" -  good for her ! Acknowledge it is hard to do things that people not her own family ask her to do.
 
I think the idea is to completely accept the youngster's feelings and not deny them.
 
As to the anger, that's justifiable. When they act out,  you might say something like, "you're good and angry.  I can't let you throw or break these toys (or whatever) but we can talk about it and find some other ways to play".  Removing a child gently and holding gently as well may help. "I'm going to hold you until you settle down a bit.  Then we'll find something else to do".
 
Comfort them when they cry. "Sure, it's OK to be upset".
 
As to play - make sure there is opportunity for LOTS of it.  Ensure that there is a variety of 'hard'  (blocks, puzzles, toy vehicles, etc.) materials and especially lots of "soft" materials and soft places - pillows, nooks, etc. Water play is very soothing to some angry preschoolers.  Can you arrange it, even in the sinks ?  Clay and play dough. Finger paint. Crayons and paper. Opportunity for imaginative play -  dolls, "housekeeping area", dramatic play area and dress-up props, etc.
 
Make sure especially that all materials are attractive, stored well, complete, and in good repair.  Nothing promotes anger more in anxious youngsters that playthings that are in disarray.
 
All of the above sounds like "Preschool 101" - and it is. But it might help. I acknowledge that it may be difficult to set up such conditions in a group setting where there are older children as well, and probably limited resources.  But an environment which enables play helps preschoolers deal with their strong feelings. Under no circumstances apply such punitive practices as point and level systems, and any deprivations, to these frightened, justifiably anxious and angry youngsters.
 
I'll be interested in what others think about this too.
 
Karen VanderVen
...
 
My suggestion is to find a moment in the day when timing is right and read them a book or play an interactive activity. I think any therapeutic activity will do. Maybe they need to bond with a worker? Not sure how you feel about this but if the timing ever feels right, offering a hug. Also of they are angry, try setting up a super active game involving cardio...it might be helpful for them to release some of this anger.
 
Alicia DaSilva
...
 
Hi Hank.
 
There are quite a few interesting threads in your example. I would like to think that the first thread is that of EMPOWERMENT of you and your colleagues.  No matter what the circumstances are as to why the children come into your care, you have the right to know the reasons. It is the first step in understanding the child's journey that he or she has taken.  Here in SA we have since 1996 been working on the empowerment of child care workers and the whole trust and confidential knowledge of why children and youth are in our care.
 
Secondly "being in the know" will mean that we are able to respond with appropriate empathy. Being "real" rather than doing a job. Every child who comes into care and especially crisis care, needs to know and feel that they and their feelings and opinions as to why they are there does  MATTER and that we at engagement will listen and try to understand how they feel.
 
The non judgemental attachment we form with children and youth at engagement is so important as it means that they themselves can safely assess our motives and our care for through our actions rather than through our words.
 
I feel for you as your examples are just so real.  Your right to intervention lies in your relationship. The best you can do for any of your clients is to "be with" them from the beginning. Give them every possible opportunity to express their  understanding of why they are with you. Always remember that as "dysfunctional" as the system says that a home is... It is always "home" to that child and HOME is a treasured place.
 
Mark Taylor
Howick, KZN, South Africa
...
 
There is no reason a "group home" full of strange adults should feel "safe" to children this young.  If anyone "kidnapped" (that's how it feels to children to be removed from their homes) ANY child and dropped them off at a strange place with strange people and away from their parents ANY normal child would say "I hate this place".  If you deny their reality they will never learn to trust you.  Let them be angry and let them long for their parents - the only caretakers who are familiar to them.  You are right to tell them that you care about their safety but they apparently got used to their situation - which sounds from the way they talk like neglect, not abuse - and are therefore defensive of their family.  Let them know you understand how scary it is to be away from home and let them know that you are going to take care of them until someone helps their family.  It sounds like the five year old girl has been "parenting" her younger brother and so she resents you taking over.  Tell her you're glad she cares about him and ask her for suggestions to help him.  It is important to honor their relationship, again if you don't you will never get their trust.  Give them, and yourself, time to feel relaxed with each other while you give them what they deserve.  Our judgments of children's parents are rarely shared by them (the children).
 
Lorraine Fox
...
 
Do whatever you can to change the procedure and know more about the kids. As a probation officer, I worked with a young boy for a year, trying unsuccessfully to get him to talk, before anyone let me know what was not written in his file "to protect him" - he'd been sexually assaulted and testified against the creep. He joined a gang and got into trouble when the guy got back out onto the street--that's what he explained once I was able to address the real problem directly. I was then able to place him in a group home in a different town so he could have a fresh start and not be afraid all the time.
 
Sheri McGuinn
...
 
Hi Hank,
 
My name is Francis, a CYW second year student at Seneca college. I believe you are personally doing your best as a worker; however, to my knowledge, you may not be able to assist these children under your care properly, if you don't know why  they need assistance  from a specialist like yourself. I don't know what the boundries are or what prevents the police from disclosing the children information, but, In every situation, the police who brings children into care are not different from the paramedic who brings patience to the hospital. Since they were first to witness the scene, its going to be very difficult for a doctor or in our situation a practitioner to continue treatment without the previous report. So I suggest you talk to your supervisors or the management about this to find  ways that will help your facility to share information with the law enforcement authorities.
 
I hope this helps.

Francis
...
 
Hello Hank!
 
My best suggestion would be to acknowledge their pain! Sometimes I find when working with young children and youth that all they need is for their feelings to ve validated. I would say something like, "Wow, it sounds like you are very upset because you were taken from your mommy and daddy" This way you allow them the use of different emotion words, not just anger.
 
It must be hard for you guys not knowing enough information too, I think if you could have a jist of what was happening you would feel more prepared too?
 
Good luck! You are doing a great job and sound very caring.
 
Robyn
...
 
Ask them what "safe" means to them.
...

Hi Hank,
   
You did not mention where you work, country/province etc. but it is almost beyond belief that you and your co-workers do not know what these "children" you care for have been through. How are you going to be helpful around various issues or trauma they have endured if you do not know what they are?  This lack of knowing compounds the insult on their quality of care. You'll need awareness and sensitivity around certain things, triggers, routines etc at minimum. The fact you are out of the loop needs to be addressed. You need to know what they have been through and how to best deal with it, which may require some research. The Social Service system needs to get the info track to you, a service provider, in order.
 
The fact they are 2 and 5 makes it hard from the start i.e. being separated from what they know. The main thing I would do is make them feel safe with me and the other staff. That takes some time with an emphasis on meeting their needs the best I can, kneeling down to the floor (literally) to speak and listen to them and comfort them when they need it. In her case you need to let her just speak/vent and its little wonder they are angry. Let them feel what they need to feel without reacting to it as defiance as long as they and others are safe. I would be so aware that they are little children and what 'should' I expect from them at this age, with this situation, and more importantly what do they expect and need from me and other caregivers.
With that age group 0-12 how can you best make it emotionally and physically safe for them? I worked in a group home and it can be a very overwhelming place at times for the kids; noise, outbursts etc. and a number of needs to meet all at once.  In these environments staff have to take a planned approach with their time, their gifts and themselves to make the best of a difficult environment to work in. The more you make the environment a settled place through your own presentation (calm, invested) the more likely it will be that it will help the children settle too.

Geoffrey R. Levy 
...
 
I would be very careful on the words you choose. They are too young to understand that their parents are getting better. You should let the little girl know that you understand that she is sad, mad, hurt, scared and you are her friend. If she is yelling over her little brother....maybe let her yell. She is obviously afraid of you, which is completely normal. She wants to protect her little brother. You need to be as delicate as possible considering you don't know what these children have been through.
 
Try to be silly at this age. Humour is the best way for the child to laugh and to feel safe with you. Once she feels you are not going to hurt her and that you are funny...she might talk to you.
 
Natacha Bougie
...
 
Hello Hank,
 
You might find reviewing Gordon Nuefeld's DVD titled "The Art and Science of Transplanting Children" helpful.
 
It can be purchased off of his website. www.gordonneufeld.com
 
Dan
...
 
Hi Hank,
That is a very sad image. I can't imagine how traumatic it must be for a five and two year old to be plucked out of their lives and placed with strangers without any real understanding of what is happening, and how difficult it must be for you guys to try to hold that. Unfortunately, that is the hard reality of our work. Can I suggest that you acquire a book titled A Child's Journey Through Placement by Vera Fahlberg. It is published by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering. It will explain attachment theory and suggest ways of facilitating the transition for the children.

With very best wishes,
John Byrne
(Ireland)
...
 
These children are both very young and must be terribly confused. Children often copy/repeat the language /behaviour they are used to. Sounds like one of the parents was told what to do and replied I am the boss of myself.
 
Quite often children draw what has been going on and can then explain if you ask them about their picture.. books about dealing with feeling where the child draws the feeling are very useful Drawing Together to Learn about Feelings by Marge Eaton Heergaard are excellent tools for group work.

Children tend to draw their own experiences then others tend to discuss theirs It is quite therapeutic. Other titles by Marge can be used on a 1-1 when you become aware of the reason for them being in your care.e.g. When Mom And Dad Separate. Children are usually very scared and need to feel safe and secure your patience and understanding will go a long way in the children trusting you. When the children are angry you can try and distract them with a toy or book or just cuddle them till they are calm. Often these children need touch so playing Row your Boat where you hold hands  feet touching can be very calming.
 
Hope these suggestions help 
 
Tess Croome-Cooper
...
 
Hi there.  
Here  are a couple of suggestions that may or may not work. But I work with situations like this quite a bit.
 
Distraction is a good tool for this I find. I have a key chain that makes noise and I let the kids play with it all the time. It has quelled separation anxiety, prevented fights and other little miracles.
 
As for statements like I hate this place or I wanna go home ... validate and ask why... She has the right to be angry and it gives you the opportunity to find out how to make her more comfortable. Ask why do you hate this place, what do you like about home. They are both very young and are going to miss the only 'safe place' they've ever known...their family home. At their ages they aren't going to understand any other concept of safe.
 
The toys well, I remove the toy that's thrown for a while and tell them why. Or get softer toys (LOL).
 
Remember that they are still at the developmental stage that is conceptually about them. So when talking to the 4 year old , use  a phrase like.... How would you feel if... ( someone threw a toy at you). Or tell her you can see she's angry. Or appeal to her protection about her brother... like you know it's not nice to throw toys ...right? Well maybe you can help me teach your brother that.
 
I think in your difficult situation it may be wise to validate the missing of the parents, but when they are at such a young age it might be better to leave extra explanation out of it. Kids that age get looked after by other people and seldom get an explanation for it.
 
If you say things like we have to look after you for a while. Let the parents explain if it ever happens. If they say how long just say you don't know...(even if you do) otherwise if you set a time/date, they will be disappointed or lose trust in you if it falls through.
 
Good Luck.
Cassandra Goldie
...
 
Wow Hank, what an awful situation you are in. You really have been set up haven't you? It is intolerable that your program has a policy where you have no idea why the kids come to you. That needs remedy. As far as how to support and nurture the youth or specifically the sibling group you mention is to not argue with them. Your group home isn't safe for them. It may be physically safe but it certainly doesn't sound emotionally safe. Can you imagine being dropped off somewhere with strangers and told it was for your safety? I wouldn't believe it either. Kids love their parents. Period.

Despite being abused or neglected many times youth still hunger and ache for their parents. It sounds like they are angry and powerless and expressing their abandonment and the trauma of being removed from their parents home by acting out. What you can do for them is to be with them, to validate their feelings as a normal reponse to being torn away from family and placed with strangers who know nothing about you, don't know your favorite food, what your favorite song is to soothe you to sleep when you are scared or the story you want to hear or the face you want to see.
 
I am sorry for the position you are in. How can you help them deal with the trauma they are currently experiencing by living with strangers? Play with them, sit on the floor with them and hold them (if they want to) ask them about their lives and about their families and about all the good things and the fun things and try to help them make new memories to forget the pain for awhile. Cook their favorite meal, sing to and with them, do art projects, color, play with puppets, go to the park, introduce them to new things and give them lots of love. Lots of unconditional love. When they throw toys, soothe them and validate their anger and sadness. Don't scold or shame them. Pick the toys up, or clean the mess up with them. Help them learn new ways of coping. Listen to what they say and and don't say. Empathise with them.

Cry with them. Be strong for them. Don't tell them it will be okay. Tell them you will be there for them, but only if you can be there for them.
 
And demand from your supervisors to get the stories on these kids. How can you know if they are afraid of the dark? What if they were sexually abused by a man who looks and sounds like someone who works in the group home? Demand that they get visits with their family members or find cousins or aunties or grannies or school teachers or someone the kid knows from before and connect them. And make sure their social workers visit often.
 
Be strong!
 
Peter DeLong
...
 
Hi Hank,
 
As confusing as these situations are to you and your colleagues, imagine the confusion for these kids.  Irrespective of the chaos they came from it is what they know as home, so anyother place in comparison would be perceived as a threat.  I wouldn't be surprised if the 5 year old parented the younger sibling, she presents parentified.  I would validate her feelings, interpret her feelings for her and provide her the opportunity to work through her feelings through play.  Hopefully your home is equipped with a
playroom: doll house, dolls etc. 
 
Donicka Budd
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